There are plenty of places to buy furniture and home decor in Nashville, but there aren’t many places like East Nashville’s Préma, a corner nook in the Porter East development that traffics in “global artifacts, fine art and one-of-a-kind accessories.” More specifically, that means late 19th century Chinese chairs crafted with merchant-class subtlety and simplicity; rustic teak-wood bowls from Bali; tribal jewelry from Papua New Guinea.
That era- and globe-spanning approach to store-stocking grew out of co-owner and returning Nashville native Michael Hale’s (right) life-long love of cultural exploration.
“All my life growing up in Nashville, I was looking for more culture and more global culture, and there was a limited supply of it,” he says. “You had to work really hard and you had to dig, and it was always my passion. I spent most of my childhood knee-deep in encyclopedias, exploring culture through many different outlets — through spirituality, food and the artistic expressions incorporated in the utilitarian objects of indigenous peoples.”
On the eve of Préma’s first-ever fall sale — which runs Friday through Sunday, Oct. 24-26, and includes 20 percent off all furniture, artifacts and accessories — we caught up with Hale and partner Elvin Valentin Jr. to talk about the nearly year-old East Nashville shop, and the global treasures housed inside.
The East Nashvillian: What was the impetus behind opening Préma here?
Michael Hale: “I was in the industry of selling antiques and furniture and art and artifacts in Chicago and New York before doing this… I grew up in Nashville, and we were both burned out on New York. We wanted to slow down a little bit, and I felt comfortable doing this in Nashville now. It’s a different place, and it seems like a much more expansive group of people.”
Why East Nashville, specifically?
Hale: “We wanted to be in East Nashville. It seemed like an up-and-coming area, and it’s really changed since I was a kid."
Elvin Valentin Jr.: “We also chose East Nashville because we’d seen similar changes in neighborhoods in New York City, and Michael felt that the same thing was happening here in East Nashville. So that’s why we thought there’d be a market for us.”
When you’re looking for items to carry in the shop, what makes you feel like something is right for Préma?
Hale: “Préma means a sort of transcendental or divine love in Sanskrit. And I think when I’m selecting inventory, I’m looking for an essence to the piece. I want something that speaks to me, that has sort of a soul to it — because these are accent pieces for your home, and they should accent your life. You don’t fill your home with lots of these things (although we would like for you to). You buy one or two and they speak to you and they resonate and they create an ambience in your space. It should have a soul — a little presence to it. Something that has a history and tells a story. We’re very much about the stories behind all the pieces that we bring in.”
You have centuries-old items from China, artifacts from Indonesia — are there specific periods or places that you focus on?
Hale: “Mostly my favorite regions are South Asia, China, Southeast Asia, but we do have Oceanic pieces, we have stuff from Papua New Guinea, we have pieces from Africa. It’s very expansive. It’s whatever we have access to. And if we find special pieces that speak to us from what we have access to, we’ll bring it into the shop.”
If someone was hunting for a particular kind of item — from a specific time period, in a specific region — would you be able to help?
Hale: “Absolutely. We have a wish list — you give us information, tell us what we’re looking for and I start digging. We go through books — we have a huge collection of books on artifacts and art — then I peel through all my contacts and see if I can find something.”
What about your custom furniture?
Hale: “One of the pillars of Préma is our custom furniture line. We basically can build anything you want within eight weeks, start to finish. So you can bring your concepts in — you can rip pictures out of magazines, you can bring your thoughts, your dreams about a piece of furniture, about a fireplace mantel, cabinetry in your home, whatever it is — and we’ll get it drawn up, start to finish, it’s ready in eight weeks. Pieces are built by a master craftsman at his workshop in Utah. Previously, he’s only sold to top interior designers and architects; we’re actually the first retail space to present his work. He can pretty much build anything — it runs the full gamut of styles.”
Take part in Préma’s first fall sale 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Oct. 24 through 26, at 711/713 Porter Rd. You’ll save 20 percent off all artifacts, furniture and accessories.
Regular Préma store hours are Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. To keep up on news and happenings, visit Préma on Facebook.